A little more than a year ago, former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola testified under oath in federal court that he committed multiple NCAA violations (and broke laws) to help Kansas secure commitments from heralded prospects — but that Bill Self and his staff knew nothing about any of it. On Monday, in a 20-page Notice of Allegations sent to KU, the NCAA essentially claimed that Gassnola lied under oath.
Yes, the NCAA believes Gassnola broke rules.
No doubt about that.
But the NCAA does not believe KU’s staff was in the dark. It has instead alleged that Self and assistant Kurtis Townsend, time and again, were at least aware of — and perhaps often involved in — the cheating. And the byproduct of that is Kansas being charged with three Level I violations that could lead to the school vacating significant achievements while its Hall of Fame coach faces career-altering punishments.
“The enforcement staff has created a false narrative regarding me and our basketball program,” Self said in a statement released late Monday that confirmed he, with the backing of KU officials, is prepared to fight.
So buckle up, everybody! This could get wild.
But, either way, the bottom line is this: it’s really hard to envision a scenario where Kansas officials are able to successfully argue their program shouldn’t be punished severely for the fact that Adidas officials were aggressively pursuing and executing deals for prospects in an attempt to ensure the apparel company’s biggest basketball program remained atop the Big 12.
That doesn’t mean they won’t try, though.
KU’s defense will more or less be rooted in the idea that, contrary to what the NCAA states, Adidas officials are not representatives of the school’s athletic interests because these Adidas officials were actually defrauding, not helping, Kansas. Granted, that worked for hotshot prosecutors in federal court. But it was always a nonsensical argument that ran counter to how college sports really work, and the NCAA isn’t likely to be persuaded by it. Beyond that, Kansas will claim there’s no irrefutable evidence that Self or his staff committed major recruiting violations — and that, again, Gassnola proclaimed Self’s innocence in October 2018. But the NCAA has made it clear it doesn’t believe that in some cases and doesn’t care in others. In simpler terms, the NCAA has alleged that KU’s staff wasn’t buying prospects because Adidas officials were doing it for them, and the idea that Self didn’t know, or sometimes even encourage it, is impossible to believe given, among other things, the following text exchange between Self and Gassnola that happened shortly after Kansas and Adidas agreed to a $191 million deal, according to documents made public in federal court.
Self: “I’m happy with Adidas. Just got to get a couple of real guys.”
Gassnola: “In my mind, it’s KU, Bill Self. Everyone else fall into line. Too [expletive] bad. That’s what’s right for Adidas basketball. And I know I am RIGHT. The more you win, have lottery pics and you happy. That’s how it should work in my mind.”
Self: “That’s how [it] works at UNC and Duke.”
Translation: Self made it known he needs high-level prospects, Gassnola said Adidas should be helping Kansas get them given the relationship between the school and the apparel company, and Self reminded him that this is in fact the way he believes it works at Nike with Duke and North Carolina.
That text exchange might not be a smoking gun — but it’s at least a firearm with traces of DNA. It’s a text exchange that’s hard to explain away because there’s only one logical way to interpret the back-and-forth, and it’s the way the NCAA has chosen to interpret it. And if you’re looking for some rationalization, it’s also right there in those texts. Right or wrong, and I personally suspect they were right, Gassnola didn’t believe he was doing anything that Nike employees weren’t doing for Nike schools, and Self didn’t believe he was doing anything that other Hall of Fame coaches weren’t doing at their own blue-blood programs. I bet, deep down, they didn’t even think they were cheating as much as they believed they were just keeping up.
Problem is, they got caught.
And now there’s a price to pay.
Years down the road, a shoe company using money to influence where basketball players enroll in college probably won’t be against NCAA rules. That’s my hope, at least. But right now, and back when Gassnola and other Adidas officials were enthusiastically recruiting for Kansas, it definitely was. So here we are.
The NCAA has taken aim at Kansas.
That was made clear Monday. It’s locked and loaded.
And it probably won’t miss.